Meredith C. Carroll: Wasting our tax dollars on sermon the Trumps didn’t hear
Since I first wrote about him in this newspaper 11 years and five days ago, my disdain for Donald Trump has hardly been a secret. The Pitkin County commissioners recently made their own aversion to Trump known, or at least to his environmental policies (or glaring lack thereof), when they placed ads in both of Aspen’s newspapers last week addressing the president’s three eldest children who were in town vacationing with their families.
The ad, which was signed by commission Chairman George Newman, “invited” Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric to relay a message to their dad to “consider our concerns and the opportunity to protect the special places” they enjoyed during their stay. Based on paparazzi photos and the first children’s Instagram posts, those places were mostly Panda Peak, Paradise Bakery and Matsuhisa.
While we both voiced our opinions in the newspaper, the difference between the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and me is that I am not required by a home rule charter to maintain a nonpartisan stance. Also, I get paid to write about Trump (and other stuff, too, presumably); I do not pay others to publish my anti-Trump writings.
Of course, the commission could have saved the $1,000 they spent on the ads and still seen their words in print. Aspen Times Editor David Krause told me, “If a public figure put together an intelligent guest column, I would have used it.” Aspen Daily News Editor Curtis Wackerle also would have run it, as long as he had enough time to plan. “If someone, even George Newman, calls on Monday afternoon and asks for column space on Tuesday, I cannot always be on their schedule,” he said.
Indivisible Aspen, a division of the larger Indivisible Guide group working on a grassroots level against the Trump administration, proved that even a letter to the editor can reach a wide audience: The one they wrote to the first family that was published in the Times on the same day as the commissioners’ ad had been shared nearly 9,000 times as of midday Tuesday.
To be sure, the commissioners’ ad succeeded in attracting attention, although perhaps not entirely in the intended way. There are those who wholeheartedly agreed with the message and messenger, yet others had their feathers ruffled, in part because “spending public money on a blatantly political advertisement is not good policy,” Pitkin County Republican Party Chairman Bob Jenkins told the Daily News. He also argued the ad was “ironic, since it talked about climate change at a time when our snowpack was measured earlier this winter at 150 percent of average and is still at 130 percent of normal. I’ve lived here for 45 years and have found this winter’s conditions to be outstanding.”
For the sake of kindness, let’s pretend Jenkins was joking when he said Aspen isn’t affected by climate change, because surely he’s brighter than that ludicrous statement indicates. Regardless, his first point is valid: the Board of County Commissioners should avoid presidential politics, and that includes the ad they took out in 2013 asking former President Barack Obama to protect Thompson Divide. The money spent on the Trump ads only amounts to .000973699 percent of this year’s $102.7 million county budget, except its actual impact was so far off the mark it probably would have been more productive to use those dollars as kindling or toilet paper.
My colleague Paul Andersen believes otherwise, writing in Monday’s Times that “the commissioner’s newspaper ad should run far more often, and not just as a message to Trump. Cautions on climate should regularly target the Aspen community, where conspicuous consumption has long been a cultural norm with vacant monster homes, vast snowmelt surfaces, fleets of private jets, and convoys of unconscionably fuel-inefficient vehicles.”
Indeed, the memo should be disseminated regularly — just not in a wasteful or divisive manner by addressing it to those who will neither read nor heed it. Targeting residents and (non-Trump) visitors in a series of ads, letters to the editor or guest opinions that sound the climate change alarm may actually have a chance of impacting people in positions of influence.
No doubt history will eventually show Newman’s missive had as much influence on Trump’s environmental decisions as the proposed Aspen City Council resolution from 15 years ago against the war in Iraq had on the war in Iraq. That’s not to say our local government shouldn’t weigh in or take a stand on national issues, especially since their effects are often felt here. However, there should be a legal limit to just how Aspen we’re allowed to be in public. The ad, which included one mistake and three other questionable grammatical choices, ultimately amounted to little more than a feel-good yet pointless exercise in patting ourselves on the back.
The Board of County Commissioners is perpetuating an unfortunate precedent they set by using money from the collection plate for the purpose of eliciting an “Amen!” Meaningful change will not be effected by preaching to the choir. Opening up the church doors and trying to convert the atheists and agnostics, on the other hand, could actually make a dent.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.
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